I was hungover when I arrived at the City Clerk’s office. I had been out all night at Union Pool despite the fact that I knew I had to be a witness for my best friend Thal’s wedding early the next morning. It was just a formality so they could celebrate properly with a ceremony and reception in Providence a couple weeks later.
With whiskey and PBR squeezing themselves out of each and every pore of my body, I reached to hug Thal. “You’re late,” she said. She flipped up the navy blue newsboy cap I had pulled over my eyes and continued: “And you’ve been crying.”
“Not for a few hours,” I explained, “I sometimes cry when I drink. I blame my iPod and the empty L train back into Manhattan. It’s very emotional at 4 AM.” She rolled her eyes.
Both Thal and her future husband, George, were dressed in appropriate work attire for their jobs in the corporate world. I’d never seen him dressed up before and was shocked at how handsome he looked. He wore a dress shirt with a black and kelly green tie under a dark grey cashmere sweater. He welcomed me with a kiss on the cheek: “Thank you for doing this, Mandy.” I again pulled at my cap to shield my bloodshot eyes. My jeans were baggy from not having been washed for well over a week, and when I looked down, I realized my chambray shirt was missing a button.
I looked at Thal in her “business casual” outfit that consisted of a black knee-length skirt and a black sweater twin set, and sighed. “You told me I didn’t have to get dressed up,” I said.
“You don’t! We’re just dressed up because we have to go to work after this. Fortunately, you can wear that to work?” she actually questioned my attire. I looked down at my dirty Chucks, the ones that had danced in almost every bar on both this and that side of the Williamsburg Bridge, and sighed again. I guess I could have at least worn sneakers that didn’t have holes along the instep of the canvas.
“I’m not going to work today,” I said. “I already called in sick.”
Thal shook her head and went up to one of the windows. “Our witness is finally here,” she said as she glanced at me over her shoulder. I weakly smiled and took a seat on the wooden bench that creaked the same way as a pew in a church.
I had never been to the city clerk for anything, and I definitely had never been there to witness a marriage. It wasn’t much different from a deli: rows of people either sitting or standing, waiting for their number to be called so they could place their order and hope they made the right choice to satisfy their hunger. I slouched down, and wrapped my arms around my stomach. The bench creaked again.
In front of me couples paced back and forth, each face a variation of happiness or sadness. It was hard to tell; there seemed to be an overall sense of conflict in the majority of the eyes of those who passed me. Some were in jeans just as badly in need of a wash as my own, while others waltzed around in dresses that seemed to have been plucked from a 1994 David’s Bridal catalogue. From bright white to broken yellow with ripped lace to putrid pea green party dresses from another generation, another era, another century, and in some cases, another world, I couldn’t discern between what was meant to be ironic or legit. Or maybe neither.
“Is anyone sitting here?” my thoughts were interrupted by a girl in strapless, baby-pink gown that was laced up the bust with red ribbon similar to little girl’s sneaker, then fish-tailing out at the bottom as if she had escaped from the Mermaid Parade. Her dark brown hair was pulled up and adorned with baby’s breath and some sort of greenery that I didn’t recognize. Her lips were shimmery and looked as though she had coated them in glue then kissed a pile of sparkles. Internally, I questioned her access to a mirror at home.
“No,” I said. I slid over to make room for her and her soon-to-be husband. Despite her attempt at gussying up for the event that was obviously important to her, her fella didn’t seem to share her enthusiasm. With an over-sized Adidas zip-up track jacket and his Yankees cap slightly off center, he grumbled at everything his betrothed said. He was not answering her; he was simply placating.
She begged him to buy her flowers. “It won’t be a real wedding without flowers,” she pleaded. Before I could assume she wanted him to sprint to the closest bodega, I noticed a clear case that had a variety of flowers you could buy for your nuptials. From roses to lilies to daisies, each bouquet was wrapped in plastic cylinders and trapped inside that suffocating case. I had never seen anything so desperately depressing. I considered standing up and decrying something about love not equating to plastic wrapped flowers, deli lines, and bad cuts of meat, but I lacked the energy.
He refused to buy her flowers, and she began to sulk and softly whimper. I cringed at her attempt at crying and tried not to get sucked into the way the red ribbon in her dress was fraying at the ends. As she began to coo words of love, I felt the need to slide right off the bench and onto the floor to make a scene. It seemed like the only way to stop what was going on beside me. But the floor, filthy with grime and black footprints was even too much for my unwashed jeans.
Thal, George, and I waited in silence. It felt like we were waiting for the OK from a pilot to get up and move around the cabin. When the number finally flashed on the digital box above our heads, we rose at the same time and made our way to the chapel.
The “chapel” was unlike any chapel I had ever seen: it was a room with a podium and not a single religious relic in sight. I assumed it must be a “bring your own crucifix to your wedding” type of situation for those who needed that aspect as part of the ceremony.
Before Thal could even take off her coat to reveal her darling, yet corporate-friendly, outfit, the officiator was already reciting the technical words of marriage. With her coat half on and half off, Thal agreed to take this man, George, to be her husband. I didn’t even sufficiently exhale before the entire thing was over. I was barely one foot out the door when I turned to Thal and exclaimed: “I missed it! I fucking missed it!”
It was true. My eyes were barely open; I hadn’t even had coffee and before I knew it, my best friend married the love of her life and I missed it. As they scurried off to sign more paperwork, I went outside. I needed air.
While I waited on the front steps for Thal, I stood next to a couple who couldn’t even communicate without a translator. I listened closing to see if I could pick up on the thick accent of the man in the equation, but couldn’t detect it.
“Your accent is so unique. Where are you from?” I asked.
“The Netherlands,” he replied sweetly and carefully.
“And your bride to be?” I asked.
“Ohio,” she said, “We met online.”
Acknowledging the translator, I asked, “How is this going to work?” It was clear she answered because he couldn’t, and the translator was slow in doing his job.
The girl from Ohio, in an off-white satin, mini-dress and matching bow in her hair said, “There are no words for love.” I did my best not to roll my eyes and scoff at such a response. Between missing Thal’s wedding because I blinked and the taste of Jameson still on the back of my throat, I couldn’t stomach someone else’s delusions.
“Mandy, you’re up!” yelled George out the door. “One more form to sign!”
I looked at the girl from Ohio in her too-short dress, the boy from The Netherlands in his too-tight jeans, their translator in his flamboyant orange, chiffon scarf, and smiled. Sometimes that’s all one can do.
“Well, congratulations to you both,” I said. They both thanked me, and I was relieved that at least they had that word in common. Maybe it wasn’t quite the spoke word of “love,” but at the moment, it seemed close enough. I headed back inside.
“It’s official,” gushed Thal, “we’re married!”
“I know,” I said, “and I couldn’t be happier for you two!” I felt myself getting choked up.
“Are you going to cry again?” she asked.
“No!” I exclaimed. “I’m just really happy.” And I wasn’t lying; I was really happy. I loved Thal so much but I couldn’t find the words to say it. I pulled at the hem of my shirt while thinking about the missing button and suddenly blurted out, “Thank you.” That was all I could offer; and it that moment its meaning outweighed that of the word “love.”
Photo by Maggie Harkov